Learn about the Wall of Remembrance at New Family Market

Meet people who are proudly Middle Main-iacs! 

mid·dle main-·i·ac: [mid-l meyn-ee-ak]

noun-  1. resident, employee, and/or advocate of the neighborhood designated as Middle Main

My name is John Atkins. I was born on 54 Pershing Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY, one block from my place of business [544 ½ Main St]. The only time I ever left this block was going to the army.  


How long have you had this business?
This business here, around thirty years.


What has your experience been as a business owner on Main Street for these past thirty years. 
When I first came to the block, it was horrible up here. Main and White- it was a notorious Main and White Street in Poughkeepsie. Everybody was scared of Main and White. As the years went on, things got better. I stuck here with it. And if you know, now it’s a whole 100% turn around here. The landowners did a lot with the buildings. You have different tenants here. The crime rate [is] way down… Poughkeepsie is getting to be a nice place to live in again. When I was a child, I walked here. There weren’t bars on the window; grocery stores [were] all up and down the street; we didn’t have a key for our house. Then the new generation came... As of now it’s a 100% turn around; maybe even a 125% turn around.


What can you say is the cause of this change? What has been happening?
One thing, we have more police here. We have landlords who care up here. Before there were landlords who just took money- they’d fill the houses with anybody. You couldn’t keep the good tenants in there. I actually owned the building at 548 Main Street myself. It got so bad, I had to let it go. All they had to hear was Main and White Street and they weren’t coming. … Now, it’s a whole lot different. The area is better. The tenants are better. You have a lot of landlords up here who really care.


One of the most interesting aspects about this business is the collection of photographs you have scattered all over the walls and even on the ceiling.

I have so many pictures in here. It’s not like I’m in here making money. I’m an old man. I’ve been here a long time. It’s just something- I like the children to come here. On this Wall I have them from the cradle to the grave. It’s sad. This wall is a Wall of Remembrance. It’s a sad wall, too.


Why do you say it’s a sad wall? 

Because I see children up here. I got a corner just for all the young boys who died in the area- in their teens and preteens. They never even experienced life. That was in those days. Days are a lot better [now]. One time we were going to more funerals than graduations. It was very, very sad. Like I said before, it changed around a whole heck of a lot.


How many faces would you say you have of youth on Main Street?
Thousands of pictures here. Thousands to put back up. About thirty years of pictures in here.


When you think of the future on Main Street, what comes to mind? What changes would you like to see?
Future on Main Street- it’s going to be slow and hard because of the times. But if you’ve been here as long as I have, you can see it’s changing a whole heck of a lot. You’re getting different people coming here, not getting so scared to come in. You’re getting working people coming in; before they weren’t. This was mostly a welfare area. Now you have working people coming up here [and] living. Most of the landlords are fixing up apartments nicely for tenants- you get a different kind of person coming up here. It’s going to take a little while. You know, the police department, and the mayor and everybody knows- this is a whole lot better than it was when I first came up here.


When I say Middle Main, what is the first thing comes to mind?

This is the part of Main Street that everybody forgot about. Years ago everything was downtown. Middle Main- you didn’t want to hear about it because there was so much crime. Then you got some good landlords who said “Hey, what about us, up here?”. Years ago we didn’t have lights come all the way up Main Street.  

 

Christmas lights? 

Christmas lights. We thought we were in a different zip code, coming up here… All of a sudden, we got lights all the way through [Main Street]. We didn’t have them since I was a child. 


We get a snow plower coming up. It’s a whole lot better-just look around. It’s not one of those overnight things. This city should have a grant writer. The city should not keep putting this on the tax-payers. With a grant[writer] they could help Middle Main. …

What happened to the youth on the walls?
Now, here I come to the sad part. 90% of this male youth in Poughkeepsie are either in jail or dead- no education. A lot of peer pressure. Most of them were young. Their mothers were babies having babies. It is a shame. If you look at this wall right now, you will see that 90% of these young gentlemen are either dead, on their way to jail, or in jail. There’s nobody to look for them. When I was a kid, when I was going to school at Warren School there was a 98% graduation rate there- 98%. There was nobody walking the streets, but our parents were different- a whole lot different. …

Any time you hear a child standing out there rapping all day long without a book in hand, that’s a good mind going to waste. I believe it is. He can stand there and recite all day long…

It’s a lot of peer pressure and it’s hard. How can you tell your child that you work every day, seven days a week, and you can’t buy him a pair of Jordans because it costs $150, but he doesn’t understand because the boy next door has a pair- and his mother doesn’t work. It’s just things like that.


Is there something I should know about on Main Street? Is there someone I should meet and know? …To keep the [Middle Main Profiles] chain going, is there someone on Main Street I should talk to? …
I am not talking about people on Main Street. I am talking about people on Main Street who care. I am not talking about Joe Bloke who comes in and is going to make money off the crime. It‘s hard. The guy down the street near Pershing [Honorio Rodriguez]. …  Look how long he’s been here. He’s been here through the hard times. He knows how hard it was. He stuck it out. Every store here comes and goes. Some stayed and just couldn't take it. They were making money at the time and they couldn't take it.

Now, it's a whole lot better. They [businesses] are staying. The streets are cleaner. You don't see people standing on the corners any more. ...

It's gonna get better [on Main Street]. I need thirty more [years] up here. ... My wife said I should get thirty more years up here, but I don't know... 

 

Photo credits: Feza Oktay

 

For the full interview, please check out: 

Meet Middle Main-iac Hank from New Family Market (544 1/2 Main St) from Middle Main Revitalization on Vimeo.

 

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